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Anarchy is the conceptual cornerstone of international relations theory and international law scholarship. Anarchy is described as the ordering principle of the international system, it is used as a variable that explains state behaviour, and the international legal order is depicted as anarchic and decentralised. This article questions this privileged status of anarchy. It challenges the designation of anarchy as the ‘ordering principle’ of the international system, and proposes an alternative theoretical construct – the Constitutive Regime of the International System – that performs the functions of the ‘ordering principles’ of the international system. This Constitutive Regime consists of three components. The first is a principle of differentiation that identifies the constituent units of the international system. The second is a theory of world order that prescribes policies and principles that are necessary to maintain order within the system, and the third are the secondary rules of international law that generate the international law-making and law-enforcement processes. In short, the Constitutive Regime provides a novel theoretical vernacular to understand and conceptualise the normative foundations of the international system.
On March 19, 2011, the United States, its European allies, and its Arab partners launched an eight-month intervention in Libya. This was said to be necessary because Mu'amar Gaddafi, Libya's longtime ruler, was responding to mass protests against his over forty-year dictatorial reign by waging war on his own people. As President Barack Obama explained, without international intervention “the calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.”